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The leaders of the Zabarma Emirate, who belonged to the Zarma ethnicity from which the Emirate is named, originated in an area now in the nation of Niger, in an area south-east of Niamey on the east side of the Niger River.
The key moving force behind the state was Babatu who hailed from Indungu in Niger, a place that had been Muslim far longer than most of the other areas the Zabarma leadership came from, most of which became Muslim only in the 1850s or so.
After the Songhai campaign of 1516, some of them had settled in the newly conquered kingdom of Kebbi. After the defeat of the Songhai Empire in 1591, there was again a major wave of migration by the Zarma to these regions.
Although the Zarma have been consistently subject to Islamic influences since then, they have been able to withstand extensive Islamization for centuries. So it is not surprising that the Zarma Land was one of the primary goals in the great jihad of Usman dan Fodio (1790-1809) and was partially conquered by the Fulani jihadists. With the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate in 1809, parts of the Zarma Land became known as the Emirate of Kebbi; Western Province of the New Sokoto Empire. In 1860, there was an uprising against the occupying power in and around Kebbi with the help of other ethnic groups. The Zarma rebelled and succeeded in regaining political power and largely driving the Fulanis out of the country.
The genesis of their conversion to Islam was triggered by this uprising and the already existing general longing for a more just social order. Large parts of the population of Zarma Land turned to Islam during these years, which increasingly established itself as the main religion in these areas.
Due to the general devastation as a result of the "warlike" events and the resulting failures in vital areas of economic production, numerous Zarma increasingly concentrated on trade outside their national borders.
From an ethnic point of view, the Zabarma Emirate was a very heterogeneous entity in which the Zarma who founded the state were actually only a minority. It was mainly Hausa , Fulani, Mossi and members of the peoples of Gurunsi country who had joined the Zarrma since their early campaigns. Despite being a minority, the Zarma had been able to secure the services of their followers of different origins, coupled with a rather long-lasting loyalty. The latter in particular was the basis on which the power of the Zarma was built.
Today, the descendants of the founders of the Zabarma Emirate, the Zarma people (Zabarma, Zamrama) live across the country of Ghana, apart from the later settled group. The current head of the Zarma in Ghana, however, still bears the title Sarkin Zabaramawa' and is a relative of the patrilineal lineage of the Babatu.